Know Your Product: A Quick Guide to Organic Cotton


You sleep on it at night, you dry yourself with it after a shower, and you’re probably even wearing it right now.

Despite being so common and so useful (it represents nearly half the fibre used in the textile industry), cotton has a dark side. The story of the way cotton is grown, harvested and produced has some nasty truths that impact our planet and its people.

Cotton is sometimes referred to as White Gold because of how lucrative it is in developing nations, like Uzbekistan. But what are the actual facts behind these claims and how can we make sure the cotton we wear and use has cared for the earth, waterways and the people who helped make our garments?

The Planet


Cotton is the thirstiest crop in the world. It requires a shocking 2,700 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt! To put that outrageous figure into perspective, that’s enough water for one person to drink for 900 days.


The production process for conventional cotton uses a huge 25% of the world’s insecticides; more than any other crop in the world. Pesticides can infect local waterways, destroying the environment and harming animals. Pest continually build a resistance to the chemicals used, so new pesticides are continuously developed, resulting in greater pesticide use and spiralling costs for farmers.

The People

Pesticide poisoning isn’t limited to the environment. Food and water supplies can be easily contaminated from runoff, and it’s the local communities, sometimes already facing hardship,  that suffer through disease, illness and even birth defects.

In many developing countries, cotton is hand-picked. In countries like Uzbekistan and India, it is usually children who do this backbreaking work, taking them away from pursuing a life changing education while running the risk of injury and illness.

The Alternative – Organic Cotton

But it’s not all bad news! Organic cotton is a wonderful, sustainable solution, which is grown without the use of pesticides, from seeds which have not been genetically modified.

Organic farming practices avoid using harmful chemicals while aiming for environmental sustainability and the use of fewer resources. Chemical-free agricultural land even stays fertile much longer than land which is hampered by the constant use of pesticides, so organic cotton farmers generally have a longer cotton commodity lifespan than otherwise.

Kowtow Shore Relaxed PantShore Relaxed Pant made from 100% certified fair trade organic cotton by Kowtow

The benefits are clear; using less pesticides means that the health of workers improves dramatically, communities can live in relative health with access to clean water and food supplies, and the land has a longer lifespan because it is not being damaged by chemicals.

By seeking out organic cotton alternatives to everyday products, you can easily act ethically and sustainably by encouraging the production of cotton grown without pesticides and reduce harm for the planet and people!

Want More Info?

For more information on organic products, visit the website of Australian Certified Organic. They’re a not-for-profit organisation based in Brisbane that works with local producers as well as international organisations to certify textiles and other products for Australians, under the Global Organic Textile Standard.

Where to Buy Organic Cotton

Bhumi GoY-Ratings_4pt9 creates timeless casual wear ranges from scarves to hoodies and leggings for men, women and children.

Kowtow GoY-Ratings_4pt9 is a New Zealand brand that uses only fair trade organic cotton in their stunning and minimalist pieces.

Vege Threads good on you great rating sell men and women’s basics and activewear.

Nomads Clothing good on you great rating bring you a range of vintage and bohemian inspired pieces for free-spirited women.

Sorella Organics GoY-Ratings_4pt9 specialise in high-quality basics ranging from tops and pants to wraps, nighties and even maternity wear.


Download the Good On You app to discover more brands using organic cotton.

Feature Image: Kimberly Vardeman

Images: Kowtow

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 15 March 2017.

Hannah Clare McFarlane

Author Hannah Clare McFarlane

Hannah Clare McFarlane is a writer, editor and booklover, who enjoys physics and making ice cream. A vegetarian and conscious consumer, she lives in Sydney’s inner west where she and her partner are learning to possum proof their vegetable garden.

More posts by Hannah Clare McFarlane

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Jess says:

    Happy to avoid pesticides for the ecological impact. But why are genetically modified crops so bad?

    They help farmers gain a higher yield and minimise the wasted crop that is usually associated with organic farming. GM farming has become incredibly beneficial in developing countries and help relieve pressures from farmers and often provide a nutritent rich option through modification to desperate families.

    People experience increased confidence when they are educated in one area and often think they can advise in an area that they are not qualified in because of this confidence.
    I think it’s important to know that your sources come from the most qualified people and not from people selling hyped up ideas with simply a compelling conviction.

    I usually like this app but I’m noticing some hidden agendas that are not necessarily evidence based from experts or expert organisations.

    • says:

      Hi Jess
      Thanks for your comment. Good On You’s assessment of the relative environmental impacts of different materials is based on the widely accepted Environmental Benchmark for Fibres by Made-By. Made-By treat GM cotton same as non-organic conventional cotton for environmental harm. The Made-By Benchmark is currently being updated and due for publication later this year. We will update our approach in the light of any revisions in the Benchmarks and any other expert advice.

  • Jen says:

    Organic cotton & fairtrade.

  • rachel says:

    Beaumont Organic – are a good option in the uk

    Celtic sheepskin – have some organic options and say where everything is made

    Rapanui is a company based in the isle of wight who do a lot of organic clothing

    People tree is a great brand for organic clothing…… they deliver at not too expensive prices from the uk. I am reliably informed that shipping across the world is negligent compared to the energy and resources used in making a garment and then the garment over its lifestyle! hmm…..

  • Rach says:

    Great post, Hannah! Another facet of conventional farming to consider is that most pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are made and applied using high levels of fossil fuels, so the environmental impact of mining these fuels is wound up in your average non-organic cotton t-shirt. And, as oil prices rise, so do the prices of these pesticides/fertilisers – meaning that poor developing country farmers (who farm 99% of cotton worldwide) can be further trapped in a cycle of debt & poverty.

    In 2014 a couple of mates and I started a small business selling organic & fair trade t-shirts and hoodies, called Fairtees, based on the Central Coast of NSW. We have more info on ‘the organic question’ there too!

    Look forward to your next article 🙂

  • BBSF says:

    You should check out Enkel ( – organic cotton garments with a farm-to-closet perspective

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